This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
This pretty scarlet-flowered root parasite is called Snow Plant, because it was once thought that it bloomed only amidst ice and snow. This is now known to be fallacious. Snow-slides sometimes occur, and it may then be found among snow. Since it was first found on the Fremont exploring expedition, and named and described by Torrey, little more has been learned of it. The following contribution is condensed from some verbal remarks before the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences:
Mr. Thomas Meehan referred to discussions among members at former meetings, as to the true character of parasitic plants. There were believed to be in the main of two classes, one which might be represented by the common Mistletoe, with woody stems continuing from year to year, the other like the Arceuthobium or pine parasite, which died to the surface of the wood, but continued to grow up from the same spot every year - a sort of parasitic herbaceous plant. It was a question how far root parasites partook of these several characters. There were some plants as Castilleia and Comandra, which might be said to be in a transition state between an ordinary terrestrial plant and a parasite. Usually they were as other plants, but some of the roots would attach themselves to other roots, and form as perfect a union as genuine parasites, and by the decline in vigor of the victim root beyond the point of union, evidently showed they were really parasitic, deriving nourishment from the attachments. Aphyllon uniflora germinated on the annual fibrous roots of Asters and Solidagos, as had been clearly traced, and perhaps on other plants, and after germination formed a mass of innumerable coral-like spongelets, drawing moisture and perhaps some other elements of nutrition from the surrounding medium.
Epiphegus Virginiana behaved precisely in the same way. Monotropa and others had also this mass of pseudo-roots or spongelets, and had been supposed to germinate and live wholly on half decayed vegetation, but he believed from analogy they would be found as in Epiphegus and others, to germinate at first on living roots. Conopholis was the only root parasite he had found any reason for believing to be a perennial. This had been found attached to quite large roots, evidently coming up from the same spot from year to year as Arceuthobium does.
Having correspondents in regions where grows the beautiful Snow Plant of the Sierras - Sarcodes sanguinea - about which nothing but its serial character has been so far known, he had set them to watching for him their appearance and final end. The places where they grew were carefully marked, and with the following results: Mr. John M. Hutchings, of Yo-semite, found the bottom of the old plants ten to fourteen inches below the surface, with not the slightest signs of attachment anywhere. To him it appeared no more than an "ordinary annual plant of great beauty." Of course an ordinary annual growing from seed could not push through the ground at so great a depth. The vital powers spent in overcoming so heavy an obstruction would be exhausted long before the growing point pushed through a foot of soil to the surface, as observing seed growers of experience would testify. Only a parasite, or a bud having an unlimited supply of food to draw on, could accomplish this feat. But the matter was settled by another observer, Mrs. Ross Lewers, of Washoe Valley, Nevada, who together with her observations had sent the dead spongy mass from the last year's plants, which we exhibited, and these were found to have a slender pine root through the mass, around which the spongy mass had grown, and as it was dead, there was little doubt that it had been the matrix from which the seed had made its original start, and which it had killed in the end.
The dead spongy mass of pseudo-roots was larger than he had seen in any other species of root parasite.
Altogether it might be said that Sarcodes sanguinea was an annual, germinating on small pine roots, and subsequently obtaining subsistence from the earth, as Aphyllon and Epiph-egus do.